Only my kindred spirit, Audrey. I believe my big sisters tried to do so, but with little success. None of their monikers stuck.
I’m still here and Audrey is not. Her awful nickname for me is still here also. And there must be a reason for that.
I met Audrey at the ripe old age of 22. I was the new assistant editor of the magazine she was already working for—and we were office mates for a bit.
Our bond was cemented the first day on the job. I had worn thigh-high stockings (yes, people, this was the late eighties and we wore stockings—which have been out of style ever since–until Kate Middleton came along). I was a svelte little thing and must have bought a size too big because at some point during the day, they ended up around my ankles. Stranded at my desk and unable to remove them there, I leaned over.
“Psst. Audrey. I know you don’t know me very well yet but my stockings are in a puddle at my feet. Could you run to the store in the lobby and get me a new pair?”
She didn’t cringe, raise her eyebrows or give me a sarcastic smile. Instead, she looked at me—and I at her—and we both burst out laughing. Until we cried. Especially when my male publisher walked in and asked me to walk down to his office with him.
We were fast friends from then on.
We saw each other through searing romances and horrible breakups. I tangoed in her living room with her eclectic friends. She ate my Chicken Acapulco umpteen times without complaining, knowing it was the only dish I could make without total and complete failure. We went to concerts, art shows, happy hours, work functions and countless lunches together. Even a quick walk to the coffee shop was enjoyable just because we so “got” each other—finishing each other’s sentences with ease.
I moved on to Chicago and the corporate world. Audrey moved on to investigative journalism and then the West Coast for a stab at screenwriting. She was the only critic I cared about when it came to my writing—she was talented beyond belief.
We stayed in touch through the years. I helped her celebrate her 40th in Chicago. It was as if no time had passed. We were still not so far removed from our twenty-something officemate selves. Our challenges might have been bigger and our approach more mature, but we could still gab until 2 a.m. and feel like we hadn’t even touched the surface of what we needed to cover.
And then, the unthinkable happened. This gorgeous, creative, alive—God, so alive—woman was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive breast cancer. She moved back home, to Cleveland, to get treatment. She did not win her struggle.
Our last visit was on a cliff overlooking Lake Erie. She wore a baseball cap with wig braids attached, as she was still bald from chemo. As she sweated, I told her to take the damn cap off. “I don’t want the stares,” she said. I promised to growl at anyone who so much as looked our way.
At the time, she’d still not been able to look at the scars from her mastectomy. “I can’t,” she said, crying.
We talked a lot. She asked how my marriage was and—I hate this—I was not completely honest with her. I didn’t want to burden her with my worries at a time when she had so many. But I robbed us of an opportunity. To connect again. To get her mind off of her troubles for a while. To allow her to not be treated like a victim and instead, be a friend and mentor again.
Odd to regret something so small and well-intentioned. But I do. We had always been completely and painfully honest and I should have treated her as a full human being, capable of handling more than her own pain. Because that’s who she was.
I am Candidkay because of Audrey. The only person in the world I ever let call me Kay—her nickname for me. I’m not sure why—but it’s what she called me most of the time when we were alone. Awful nickname, in my opinion (apologies to all the Kays out there). It’s a true testament to our friendship that I ever answered to that name.
Before she died, she told me I should write essays. That I had true talent. That she would be there to applaud at my book signing. “Just be candid,” she had said. “Your voice says it all, Kay.”
I’m still here. And there must be a reason for that. Other than for those I love, I think it’s to bring whatever I make people feel or think—through my writing—into the world.
It’s a small gesture. But it’s what I have. And I feel I’m making up for lost time for my kindred spirit also. Each time I write, I feel her looking over my shoulder, helping me to shape and simplify, distilling each piece to its essence.
Without her encouragement, Candidkay would not exist. And while I’m still here, I’ll be damned if I’ll let either of us down.
If you have a kindred spirit and you’re lucky enough to still have them here with you, listen carefully to them. Ignore the awful nicknames, the teasing, the brief squabbles. Listen to their deepest thoughts. Their wisest advice. Their opinion of you and your talents. Kindred spirits are sent to those of us lucky enough to meet them in this lifetime for a reason. And some of us get to “borrow” these souls for less time than we thought.
We may have begun with thigh-high stockings and a laugh, but we ended on an awful nickname and a lot of love. I’m happy for the time I was given. Make sure you are too.